Belize is Part of the Largest Barrier Reef in the World
Average Water Temperatures
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Snorkeling is a popular pastime for many here on Ambergris Caye, because the water is pristine and sparkling clear, and relatively warm. Shore access is easy and the currents are normally mild. Many people come to Belize for the snorkeling alone.
You will find, that many of the snorkeling sites off San Pedro are rich in marine life, including hundreds of fish species and a variety of living corals (including elkhorn, starlet, brain, and sheet). You may also come across colorful sea fans, sponges, sea whips, gorgonians, crabs, rays and eels. One word of caution, don't get too close to the nearsighted green moray eel, he can chomp your finger off in the blink of an eye. Snorkelers share the clear waters here with everything from a nervous squirrelfish to the curious grey angels, from jaunty sea horses to parading parrot fish. Large schools of yellowtail snapper, horse-eye jacks, and blue-stripped grunts cruise by, along with spotted eagle rays and purple cleaner shrimp.
If you have small children who wish to snorkel, it's wise to hire an experienced guide who can help keep an eye on them in the water. This is an especially exciting experience for young adults, as it opens up their awareness of a whole new world.
If you've just arrive in Belize without a tan, it's prudent not to snorkel for more than have a day on your first few attempts. Make sure to keep your back covered by wearing a T-shirt and lots of sunscreen.
GREAT SNORKELING SITES
Great Snorkeling Spots
1. Mexico Rocks
2. Tackle Box
4. Tuffy Canyons
5. Hol Chan Cut
6. Shark Ray Alley
There is a great variety of snorkeling sites along Ambergris Caye. The Belize Barrier Reef meanders along the coastline for about 185 miles. It varies from 8 to 16 miles from the mainland, to less than one mile offshore from Ambergris Caye. Much of it is totally unexplored and all of it is easily accessible by boat. The reef is like a gigantic wall running parallel to the coast. Between the mainland and the reef are shallow, sandy waters with numerous mangrove-covered islands (cayes).
While much of the flora and fauna is similar throughout the reef system, there are individual differences to be found everywhere. A particular type of fish may be seen on almost every snorkel, but during mating season it may congregate in only one or two areas in great numbers. Hard corals, gorgonians, sea fans, tunicates, and shellfish of amazing variety populate Belize coastal waters, but the predominance of one in a particular stretch of reef may give that area its name. The manta ray and spotted eagle ray are fairly common, and a snorkeler can reasonably expect to see one of these magnificent creatures during his visit. Hammerhead shark, Caribbean reef shark and even the oceanic white tip shark are seen occasionally, but these lucky sightings are rare.
Ambergris Caye is justly the most popular attraction to the tourists who come to Belize. The factor that most contributes to this is the unbelievably superb snorkeling conditions. Accessibility to the Lighthouse Reef, Turneffe Islands, as well as many excellent sites off Ambergris Caye, make it easy to get to and from these sites.
The three most-popular areas for snorkeling from boats near Ambergris Caye are Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark-Sting Ray Alley and Mexico Rocks. A visit to Hol Chan and Shark-Ray Alley to the south of San Pedro are usually combined into one trip, while Mexico Rocks to the north of town is usually a separate trip. These snorkeling trips usually last two to three hours. Typically, snorkel boats go out once in the morning and once in the afternoon, more frequently during busy periods.
The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is about 4 miles south of San Pedro. It is a 5-square-mile underwater national park, established by the Belize government in 1987. Because fishing is prohibited in the reserve, there is a considerable amount of sea life. As a result, you can expect to see many large groupers, nurse sharks, sting rays, moray and other eels, spadefish, schoolmasters and other fish. Depth is fairly shallow between 5 to 30 feet. Visibility is usually good, at 50 to 60 feet or more.
Several snorkel boats may congregate at one time. In fact, it's a good idea to make a mental note of the name or identifying colors of your boat, so you don't swim back to the wrong boat. Do not touch the coral with your hands or fins, and do not feed or touch the fish.
Caution! Tidal currents here can be quite strong. Weak swimmers or younger children may tire quickly swimming against the current. Ask your guide about the strength of the current, while here on Ambergris Caye. Don't be shy about accepting a few jacket.
Shark Ray Alley is a shallow cut to the south of Hol Chan where nurse sharks and sting rays congregate. Guides sometimes place chum in the water, to attract the sharks, and you can jump in and swim with them. It's not half as scary as it sounds, and most of the people who come on the snorkel boats do get in the water here.
At Mexico Rocks, off North Ambergris opposite a former coconut plantation, you may not see as many fish as at Hol Chan, but the coral is beautiful. Also, this area is protected from ocean swells and currents, so it makes for easier snorkeling. Depth is only about 6 to 12 feet, so you can see everything up close.
The snorkeling immediately around Ambergris Caye is easily accessible. Snorkelers will enjoy the shallow water depths, making coral and sea life very visible. Those willing to make a larger investment in time and money can use San Pedro as a base for day trips to distant cayes and atolls, which offer some of the best snorkeling in all of the Caribbean. Snorkeling in and around Ambergris Caye, is mostly spur-and-groove with some deep canyons, and reef cuts.
ENJOY SAFE SNORKELING
Your snorkeling guide, will do his/her utmost to ensure your safety during all of the days activities, however, all swimming and snorkeling is undertaken at your own risk.
* Do not consume alcohol before snorkeling
* Do not eat alot before snorkeling
* Always snorkel with a partner, or travel companion
* Having trouble, wave your arms above your head
* Listen carefully to instructions, if being rescued
* Do not snorkel, around-under the platform areas
* If a boat is approaching, raise your head to be seen
* If rising to surface, look upward when ascending
* Wear a shirt to protect you from the sun
* Medical conditions increased risk to those over 50
* Do not touch shells or try to pick them up
* Do not touch any plants or corals
* Avoid jellyfish, the stings can be very painful
* Listen to safety instructions carefully
* Know your physical limitation, do not exceed them
* If suffer from heart disease, asthma, lung complaints, epilepsy, diabetes, allergies to stings and bites, or any other medical condition which can be made worse by physical exertion, you should take special caution and inform your guide of your situation and snorkel in an area that allows closer supervision.
* Select a mask, fins and snorkel that fit your body
* Remove fins only on the submerged platform
* Before using, rinse disinfectant on your mask
* Prevent fogging by spitting inside your mask-rinse
* Fitting masks, ensure your hair is clear of mask.
* Place mask strap high on the back of your head
* Place the snorkel in front of your ear
* Seal lips tightly around mouth piece & breathe
* Clear water from mask, tilt head back & lift bottom
* Clear water from snorkel - exhale through snorkel
* Uncomfortable with snorkel, ask for help
* Always look ahead when snorkeling avoid collisions
SPECIAL NOTE: To avoid infection or coral poisoning, it is essential that all scratches or cuts are treated with an anti-bacterial suave.
UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
Underwater photography is a favored activity for many divers and snorkelers traveling to Belize. Acceptable facilities are generally available for camera care, but it is best to bring everything you may need for photography, charging and maintenance, including back-up chargers.
Though the country isn't well equipped to handle major photography needs, there are disposable and re-usable cameras for sale for snorkelers and shallow divers. Print film is sold at some stores and electronic shops, which may also have some low-capacity memory cards for digital cameras. divers with higher-end-cameras or professional equipment and DSLR housings should bring everything they need, including appropriate back-up (like spare chargers).
Larger dive centers often have cameras for hire and usually have a staff pro that can provide instruction, or shoot stills or a personal video of your dive. E-6 processing is now pretty much non-existent, so ask if your dive center offers it before you leave home if you want on-the-spot results.
The better boats have large, white Igloo style coolers that can hold many point-and shoots, a couple of DSLR systems or some video housings. These are excellent for rinsing between dives. Ensure your shop has something similar that is full of fresh water - nothing like opening up the rinse cooler and finding it is empty.
The live aboards and a few resorts also have dedicated camera rinse and maintenance areas with blowers and charging cubicles.